Purpose of Literature Review | How to Organize a Literature Review

I. What is the purpose of a literature review and how to write it appropriately?

By reading this article, you will understand how to create one of the most significant and complicated paper sections, i.e. a literature review. We will help you fully comprehend what the role of a literature review is and how to produce it in the right way.

Purpose of Literature Review

You should know that when writing academic papers, the ideas you put forward and the statements you make have to be based on hard facts. For this reason, you need to thoroughly evaluate previous and prevailing literature on your subject. The main function of a literature review is to give readers an insight about the theoretical concepts, and essential literature on the discussed matter that is currently available.

The purpose of a literature review in a dissertation is not merely to outline the key ideas of previously conducted studies but to perform a critical analysis of the subject. In addition, when creating this section, you have to share your own opinion on the topic.

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When preparing a literature review, you are to:

  • Trust the viewpoint of professionals in the respective field of study. At the same time, you need to develop and/or argue their ideas.

  • Admit the scholars who have explored the issue earlier. However, do not forget to demonstrate your own substantial input in the area.

The literature review you are preparing will show your position on the topic you are analyzing. That is why it is essential to know how to express your ideas and thoughts to convince readers in their relevance.

Pertinence of Your Research

Since a literature review is an academic piece of writing, it has to be structured properly. Your thoughts have to be connected logically. There should be smooth transitions from one idea to another. It is vital to show readers that your statements are valid. Thus:

  • Mention only the sources which you consider up-to-date, significant and pertinent.

  • Establish the goal of your writing, set its tone, and satisfy the imposed requirements. Thus, you will manage to meet the expectations of your readers and show that you are fully conversant with the issue.

  • Be objective and clear when indicating the terms used in your paper and presenting your opinion on the subject. Note that an excessive use of quotations will not help you demonstrate your awareness of the subject. Your academic work should not look like the list of resources you have referred to when doing research. Your own statements do matter!

  • Organize citations correctly by meeting the course specifications. Try to identify the role each citation plays in developing your ideas. Do the provided citations help you achieve your goal?

Your Readers

Mind the readers when creating a literature review. Have they browsed the same sources as you? Are they highly knowledgeable about the examined matter or they know nothing about it? Is it necessary to give readers basic information about your topic and provide them with precise definitions of specific notions to help them properly understand your paper?

In order to produce a good literature review, you need to correctly define the role it performs. Your literature review should serve readers as a useful guide providing relevant information about the subject you are investigating. Thus, it will be easier for them to get the main idea of your paper. Your literature review should remove all readers' uncertainties about the matter.

Keep in mind that though your paper has to be based on the previously established facts, your viewpoint has to be its core. In this way, you will be able to show the relevance of your concepts to the topic. A literature review is the work that builds the connection between your ideas and those of other scholars in your area.

Below, you will find information on how to arrange a literature review and how to evaluate the material relevant to your field of study.

II. Structuring and Evaluating Available Material

Now it is time to find out how to organize and review the relevant literature on your subject.

As it has been stated above, a literature review serves two chief functions:

  • It gives a detailed description of the subject you are examining;

  • It highlights your paper within the framework of available research studies.

A literature review is not a piece of writing that just provides a summary of the material on the topic you are covering. It is not enough to indicate the sources that include data about your subject. Readers want to be certain that you are an expert in your area able to provide them with a profound work giving a thorough analysis of the subject.

When dealing with such a project, it is of immense importance to discuss both related and contradicting viewpoints on your topic.

That is to say, in order to create a strong literature review, you have to:

  • divide the notions relating to your subject into groups according to their features;

  • determine the opposing viewpoints relating to the created groups (the ones mentioned above);

  • identify similar and controversial features between the groups;

  • combine known and unknown facts about the discussed subject that can be imparted within each group;

  • assess the worth of various issues relating to your subject;

  • clearly define the direction you are going to follow when doing your research.

In order to find the notions closely related to your topic, you have to undertake painstaking research. The collected data can be classified into categories according to the themes or some other peculiarities. Later, you will use the notions belonging to each of the categories when writing your review.

The following questions will help you understand how to assess previous research works:

  • Does the author obtain the qualifications necessary for making the statements he/he has made? Does the author back up the expressed ideas with strong arguments such as statistical data, case studies, historical facts, recent research results, etc.)?

  • Does the opinion expressed by the author is objective or subjective? Do the offered arguments prove the author's point of view?

  • Which author's concepts are valid and persuasive? Why? Is the conclusion made by the author reasonable?

Now when you know how to organize a literature review, it is time to learn how to make a detailed analysis of previous studies by using the means of visualization.

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III. Effective Tools for Synthesizing and Examining Previous Studies

How to join together the material collected from different sources? People working on academic writing projects often experience difficulties in structuring the gathered data. When creating a literature review, a lot of writers just sum up the material collected from sources they have browsed, and this is a huge mistake. It is required to carefully examine the sources and synthesize the material they provide. When analyzing information, you have to identify weak and strong points of the research projects you are dealing with, and compare them with each other and with your own study. Additionally, you need to show what unresolved issues your work highlights.

There is a variety of tools which you can use to synthesize and scrutinize the material. One of such tools is a synthesis matrix that is very helpful in arranging and interpreting the sources which you are mentioning in your literature review. Proper organization of the sources will serve as a firm basis for your work and help you convince readers of your professionalism and expertise. Below, you will find a few examples of how the mentioned tool for organizing sources can be used.

Example #1. Here, it goes about a literature review matrix (in other words a table) that is arranged according to the chief research works relating to your subject. You need to define several projects that are directly connected with the core of your topic and which will serve as a basis for your paper. In the first vertical column, you should indicate the author of the source and its publication date. Then, it is necessary to create several columns illustrating:

  • the research questions posed by the authors of diverse studies;

  • the techniques applied by the author;

  • the peculiarities of the sample;

  • the research results;

  • the fundamental ideas that come out of the achieved results;

  • the way the obtained results confirm the validity of the output of other works;

  • the difference between the results obtained in course of your research and those of other projects or providing information that is unavailable anywhere else.

Note that you can download the example #1 right from our website.

It should be stated that this example has been taken from the research undertaken a few years ago. The study was focused on elderly homeless women. In the course of research, it was found out that the majority of projects were concentrated on elderly homeless men. The sources that still contained information about women discussed young homeless females. It was stated that only seven works addressed the problem of elderly homeless women. By using the said matrix, the academician conducting research was able to define the main issues that were explored in relation to elderly homeless women. Moreover, such a tool helped the academician make a logical structure of a literature review that let focus on the major aspects of the topic of elderly homeless women. These aspects are: the lack of accommodation options, features of homeless women, broken relationship, etc.

Example #2. According to the type of your research and the statements you intend to make, you may create various headings in your literature synthesis. For instance, if you are doing qualitative research and are unsure about the concepts your results may relate to, you may create additional columns in your table to explain the very concepts. When undertaking quantitative research, you may create additional columns in your table to explain why you have used specific tools when exploring the issue. Below, there is a table which you may find helpful in analyzing the used approaches and identifying the restrictions of your research.

headings in your literature synthesis

You can download the example #2 together with the necessary explanations from our webpage.

This example illustrates how the relationship between the principal's authority and teachers' effectiveness are explored. Previous results did not let researches make any strong concluding statements about this relationship. Thus, it was suggested to use another tool to represent the influence of principal's authority on teachers' effectiveness. Those who were researching such a topic created a table including the columns for the variables identified within each source, particular measures used for assessing teachers' effectiveness, particular measures used for identifying leadership features, and the ways highlighting the connection between the used sources and the very study. When doing your own research, you should clearly identify the most suitable methods for examining sources and create a literature review table with respective columns.

Example #3. It is necessary to admit that the majority of worthy literature reviews are arranged by subtopics. Here it goes about one more tool that is used to structure literature reviews by subtopics. As soon as you determine the main subtopics, you may arrange your research work as it is demonstrated in the table presented below. Thus, you will be able to not only demonstrate the connection between your findings and the main subtopics, but also synthesize this material in your literature review.

literature review table

You will find interesting examples of synthesizing material on our website. In order to download the sample you are interested in, you just need to access our page and fill in the offered online form.

By looking through the discussed types of structures, it will be easier for you to choose the most efficient way of organizing your literature review. Remember that the main thing you need to do is to browse the sources relating to your topic and define the subtopics that are linked with your research.

After synthesizing the available material, you may begin creating the draft of your literature review.

Read more about:

  • Structuring a literature review

  • Paraphrasing and Quoting - which One to Apply?

  • Why Is It Important to Cite Your Sources according to the Established Rules?


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